With five fine full-page miniatures by the same artist responsible for a similar work at the Nuremberg City Library
Books of Hours, private devotional books, intended to guide their reader through the various hours of daily prayer, emerged from the Psalter, a book used by monks and nuns to order their daily devotions. From the fourteenth century, wealthy lay-people began to increasingly want to take part in these regular acts of...
Books of Hours, private devotional books, intended to guide their reader through the various hours of daily prayer, emerged from the Psalter, a book used by monks and nuns to order their daily devotions. From the fourteenth century, wealthy lay-people began to increasingly want to take part in these regular acts of prayer, and so a demand was created for similar books aimed at the laity. These had twin aims – to aid the user in their prayers, for which a set system of prayers and aids to these was developed (though variable depending on location) – and to demonstrate the wealth and influence of the owner, leading to increasingly more decoration and large devotional images, often by professional artists or workshops dedicated to the production of these books. This type of book was steadily produced in continually increasing numbers throughout the Middle Ages into the Early Modern period, becoming something of a medieval ‘bestseller’ – certainly it was the type of book through which the highest number of Europeans in the Middle Ages came into contact with the Bible and prayer, and in many cases was the only book that a non-ecclesiastic would own.
The present book has illumination showing that our manuscript was made in Bruges in the first years of the 15th century: the Virgin of Humility on f.39v, shown seated on a cushion with her feet on a crescent moon, is an iconographical choice distinct to Bruges. Many Bruges books were intended for export to England, but the liturgical use – of Rome, not Sarum – and an absence of English saints such as Edmund, Oswald and Hugh of Lincoln in the Calendar, shows instead that this book was produced for the home market in the Low Countries. The unusual inclusion of the Italian saint Proculus of Bologna in the Litany, placed a prominent second in the list of martyrs, might point instead to an Italian patron, or one with Bolognese heritage or business connections in Bologna.
The cool palette, rather stiff figures, and a preference for red backgrounds link these Hours stylistically to the ‘Ushaw Group’, active at the beginning of the 15th century in Bruges, the most important centre of manuscript production in the Southern Netherlands at this time. Named for a Book of Hours in Durham (Ushaw College MS 10) with a colophon by the copyist Johannes Heineman stating that it was written in Bruges and completed in January 1409, the Ushaw Group were responsible for a wide corpus of manuscripts dateable to roughly 1400-1415 (for the Ushaw Group and Bruges manuscripts of the period, see M. Smeyers, Flemish Miniatures, 1999, pp. 194-214). Our manuscript seems to have been painted by the same artist as a Book of Hours now in Nürnberg (Stadtbibliothek, Hert. Ms. 3; see Smeyers, p.198).
Anonymous Bruges artist, Book of Hours, use of Rome, in Latin, illuminated manuscript on vellum [Bruges, c.1400-1415], 104 x 80mm.
160 + i, collation: 112, 29 (of 8, i an inserted miniature), 39 (of 8, i an inserted miniature), 49 (ix a singleton), 59 (of 8, i an inserted miniature), 6-98, 1010 (of 12, xi-xii cancelled blanks), 114, 129 (of 9, i an inserted miniature), 138, 149 (of 8, i an inserted miniature), 15-188, 19-204, 15 lines, ruled space: 65 x 42mm, rubrics in red, one-line initials alternating blue and liquid gold and two-line illuminated initials on blue grounds throughout, 14 illuminated initials with borders of bars, ivy and hairline tendrils supporting flowers and gold discs, five full-page miniatures within frames topped with architectural arches with border decoration of gold discs on hairline tendrils (a little cropped, scattered light staining throughout).
A Calendar of saints and their feastdays along with other important feasts ff.1-12; the Hours of the Cross (a daily cycle of prayers in honour of the Cross) ff.14-16; the Hours of the Holy Spirit (a daily cycle of prayers in honour of the Holy Spirit) ff.17-20; ruled blank f.21; the Mass of the Virgin ff.23-28; the extracts of the Gospels concerning Christ’s Passion ff.28-32v; the O intemerata prayer ff.33-35; the Obsecro te prayer ff.35v-39; the Hours of the Virgin (a daily cycle of prayers in honour of the Virgin – the central set of prayers in this book and most sacred), of the use of Rome ff.41-93v: with the daily ecclesiastical hours of matins (before dawn) f.41, lauds (early morning) f.51, prime (first hour of daylight) f.69, terce (third hour of daylight) f.72v, sext (noon) f.76, none (ninth hour) f.79, vespers (sunset) f.82, and ending with compline (end of the day) f.90v; ruled blank f.94; the Seven Penitential Psalms ff.96-111; and the Office of the Dead ff.113-159; ruled blank f.160.
The subjects of the inserted full-page miniatures are as follows: the Crucifixion f.13v; the Annunciation f.22v; the Virgin of Humility f.39v; the Last Judgement f.94v; and a Funeral Mass f.111v.
A 17th-century owner has added a plea for intercession beneath the Virgin and Child miniature.
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